MCS Removes Northern Monk from “Fish to Avoid” List

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has
taken monkfish from northern stocks off its “Fish to Avoid” list
following a recent meeting with a scientist and representatives of the
Scottish whitefish fishing industry to discuss the sustainability of
this fishery. The list is available online at www.fishonline.org, the
website published by MCS to help consumers identify the most
sustainable seafood available.

MCS had previously listed monkfish from the northern
stock (which includes monkfish fished in Scottish waters) as “Fish to
Avoid” due to a number of concerns for the sustainability of the
fishery. These included the low resilience of monkfish to fishing, high
catches of immature female fish and a high degree of uncertainty
surrounding the state of the stock.

However,
despite the lack of scientific data available to ICES to assess the
fishery in terms of precautionary reference points, the fishery is now
considered by many to be healthy and the stock is reported as not
currently in decline. It should be noted that this does not lead MCS to
place monkfish in its “Fish to Eat” list, as some unresolved concerns
remain over the fishery.

Scientific evidence
recently compiled by Dr Chevonne Laurenson from the NAFC Marine Centre
suggests there has been a significant increase in abundance over the
last 5 years and there are no biological indicators to suggest that
monkfish is being exploited at unsustainable levels. “There has been
widespread recruitment into the fishery since 2001 and all evidence
indicates that the stock is continuing to increase in abundance at the
present time” says Dr Laurenson.

Bernadette
Clarke, MCS Fisheries Officer says ” MCS very much welcomed the
opportunity to discuss our concerns for this and other European
monkfish fisheries with industry leaders and for the opportunity to be
provided with more detailed scientific and management information to
allow us to reconsider the sustainability of this specific fishery. As
a result MCS has re-evaluated it's rating of the fishery and removed it
from the MCS “Fish to Avoid” list”.

Recent
fishery management improvements have provided both incidental and
direct benefits to the monkfish fishery such as:

  • Decommissioning - much of the Scottish fleet has also been
    decommissioned and fishing effort is now significantly lower than in
    the 1990s when fishing pressure on monkfish was generally regarded as
    at unsustainable levels (out of a total of 298 demersal trawlers active
    in Area IVa in 2001 96 (32%) were decommissioned by the end of
    2004).

  • Recent restrictions on fishing effort and Total Allowable
    Catches (TACs) for other deepwater species such as orange roughy, blue
    ling and deepwater sharks with an aim to phase out these fisheries by
    2010/2011 has also resulted in reduced fishing effort on monkfish in
    deeper waters

  • Introduction of closures in deepwater fisheries specifically
    on the Rockall, Hatton Banks and Darwin Mounds for the protection of
    cold water corals

  • Cod recovery zone – the introduction of a closed area to aid
    the recovery of cod to the North West of Scotland, may also be
    providing protection for spawning monkfish

 
Mike Park, Executive Chairman of the
Scottish Whitefish Producers Association says, “The Scottish fishing
industry has made tremendous sacrifices to aid both the recovery of cod
stocks and to protect our other main commercial species such as
monkfish. We are proud of our industry science partnerships and our
commitment to the environment in general through our collaboration with
environmental organisations. The removal of monkfish from the MCS “Fish
to Avoid” list is acknowledgement of those, and other measures we have
deployed to protect the environment. Our meeting with MCS was very
positive and we now view it as our responsibility to meet with them on
a regular basis so that we may keep them informed and
up-to-date”.

Director of the Scottish Seafood
Processors Federation, Andrew Charles, added “SSPF very much welcome
MCS decision to remove Scottish monk fish from their “Fish to Avoid”
list. It is very clear this decision is based on excellent data that
has been made available by Dr Laurenson and the growing working
relationship between the Scottish fishermen and conservation groups.
The importance of our customers having the confidence to buy quality
Scottish fish that is caught in well managed and sustainable fisheries
is paramount to the long term success of our industry”.

Whilst fishing is predominantly on juveniles in shelf
or shallow seas the larger females are known to inhabit deeper waters
where spawning is assumed to occur. Although there are concerns for the
expansion of the fishery into areas once providing refuge for the
stock, very few mature females are caught.

In
order to increase the sustainability of the fishery MCS would like to
see measures introduced to protect immature fish, especially inmmature
females in trawl fisheries, such as rigid selection grids and the
identification and protection of spawning areas coupled with further
limits on the fishery in deeper waters off the west coast of Scotland.
However the introduction of closures and reduction of TACs for
deepwater species referred to earlier will likely contribute to the
protection of the spawning stock.

A feedback
form is available at the fishonline website www.fishonline.org to
facilitate exchange of information and MCS is particularly keen to
receive relevant scientific information and information on responsible
practices to promote to the consumer. By raising consumer awareness of
the issues related to producing fish MCS aims to protect fish stocks,
livelihoods and marine life and promote sustainable management of both
wild and farmed fish.

A copy of the MCS policy
statement on monkfish is available on request. The methods used to rate
fish against sustainability criteria, and list some as “fish to eat”
and “fish to avoid”, are also described and available at www.fishonline.org.